BWW Review: Anoka's Lyric Arts Gifts Audiences Elegant and Evocative EVITA
Was Eva Perón a saint or sinner, or perhaps merely an incredibly determined woman who changed the face of Argentinian politics? In an elegant stage presentation of the award winning Evita, Lyric Arts on the Main Street Stage delivered a theatrical jewel to their audiences this past weekend. Andrew Lloyd Webber's music and Tim Rice's book and lyrics garnered Drama Desk and Tony Awards to became the first British musical to win the prestigious award of Best Musical in 1979. Inspiration for the production came from Mary Martin's biography "Evita: The Women with the Whip" and forged the basis for the Webber/Rice collaboration with contemporary themes that resonate in the 21st century. Political upheaval in South America and other world regimes rock the globe in current news headlines, where revisiting Evita gives audiences a forum to contemplate these cultural concerns.
The compelling production begins with Eva Perón's death in 1952 when pallbearers carry her casket onto the stage in several emotional scenes. The South American masses adored Eva for her promotion of social justice in Argentina that included, women's voting rights, social programs for the poverty stricken and employment or labor rights. Her husband, Juan Perón, benefitted from Eva's charisma during his presidency. Argentinians also appealed the reigning Pope in Rome to accord her sainthood when she died in September, 1952, as the song "Santa Eva" infers.
After this mournful beginning, the musical turns to a flashback and begins with the younger actress/singer in her hometown who eventually moves to Buenos Aires. At a fundraiser for Argentinian earthquake victims, Eva meets her future husband, who's a current colonel in the military, Juan Perón. Perón eventually marries Eva, ascends through the ranks and is elected as a three term President in Argentina.
This production demands excellent acting abilities and three incredible voices, where the music often crescendoes into an opera genre. Director Matt McNabb casted three amazing talents: Adan Verela plays the passionate narrator, Ché. Jake Sung-Guk Sullivan adapts the handsome and powerful Juan Perón for Anoka's stage. And and absolutely stellar Kiko Laureano inhabits the star role of Eva Perón. This trio carries the production through evocative voices that crush the challenging musical score conducted by Music Director Louis Berg-Arnold and a five piece orchestra providing a lush accompaniment to the cast and the accomplished 15 actor ensemble.
In addition to the masterful voices, Scenic and Lighting Designer Chad Van Kekerix creates a double tiered set with a balcony/cat walk that also showcases a black/white stage floor. Sara Wilcox's elegant 50's and period costume designs became a feast for the eyes, especially when Eva rises as Perón's First Lady donning couture gowns and suitings.
In a musical that borders on opera, intuitive and sensitive McNabb directs with precision and a refined opulence for a smaller theater. At times, the ensemble walked through the theater aisles in a beautiful candlelit vigil for Eva. When the Peróns atop the catwalk, now draped in political vestments befitting a president, the audience participates as an actual Argentinian might do. Each technical element enhances the production and Eva's rise to fame, along with her husband, Juan's political power.
Ultimately, the Perón's story begs the question of political stability and how the social classes might or might not tolerate or try to understand each other's perspectives, Including when the aristocracy's interests conflicts with the working class and poverty stricken countrymen. This age old dilemma confronts numerous governments in today's current events, perhaps most dramatically in France where President Emmanuel Macron faces criticism while the citizens wearing "yellow vests' stage protests in Paris. Or then consider Venezuela's tenuous hold on the country's political and social stability.
Juan and Eva Perón, who defined what was eventually named Perónism, dominated a period in Argentinian history from the 1940's' to the 1970's, where the world focused closely on the country When Laureano sings Eva's powerful anthem/solo, usually associated with Madonna from the 1996 film, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," the lyrics resound with Ava's generous spirit. While her fascinating life expired too soon, Ava might have become Juan's vice president has she lived past thirty-three in the 70's. Eva became a tour de force in her homeland and continues the legacy in this ambitious Lyric Arts production. Throughly revel in Lyric Arts' show stopping production Evita.
Lyric Arts presents Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's Evita on the Main Street Stage, 420 East Main Street, Anoka through April 14.. For information on performances or tickets to the production, please visit: www.lyricarts.org.